Advocating for Your Special Needs Child at SchoolApr 07, 2022 ● By The Hood Magazine
By: Karine Paulson
Having a child with special needs or a learning disability means you will have special responsibilities when it comes to your child’s education. If your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), you will want to understand your rights as a parent as well as the responsibilities of the school district to ensure your child receives the education and services he or she deserves. In the unfortunate event that there is a disagreement with your school district about what special services are appropriate, it’s especially important to know how to advocate for your child’s education. The following are strategies that I have found to be effective when advocating for my daughter Adylin’s education.
Read and Research Special Education Law. Doing so will help you understand that as a parent you have power and rights to make educational decisions for your child. You will also learn the jargon used during IEP meetings. It is easy to think that the other team members are the professionals and that you should leave the decision making to them, but as the child’s parent ultimately you are responsible for your child’s welfare.
Gather the Facts About Your Child. Collect information about your child’s disability and educational history. Save everything including test scores, progress reports, work samples, and communication from school personnel. Make sure that these documents are organized in a central location, such as a binder, for quick reference. Having good documentation can be invaluable when making decisions about your child’s education.
Plan and Prepare for Meetings. Ask the school for copies of evaluations and a draft of proposed IEP goals prior to your IEP meeting. Reading the information in advance will help you to stay focused on what team members are saying during the meeting. It will also give you a good understanding of what the school district wants to do for your child before the meeting takes places.
Reach Out and Ask for Help. It is not uncommon for families with special needs children to have disputes with their school district. The South Dakota Parent Connection (www.sdparent.org) provides a mediation program for schools and parents to navigate the education system when issues are difficult to resolve. In addition, The Family Support 360 Program (www.dhs.sd.gov) is a Medicaid Waiver Program that assists individuals and their families to locate needs, supports, services and help with advocacy. If you have questions about your child’s rights, Disability Rights of South Dakota (www.drsdlaw.org) can provide pro-bono legal services dedicated to protecting and advocating for the rights of your child. You have the right to contact and bring a support person or advocate with you to all meetings.
As a parent, you are the best advocate for your child’s education. The law gives you power to make educational decisions for your child. Understand what rights your child has and do not hesitate to reach out for help. A good education is one of the most important gifts you can give your child and your advocacy will help get them the best education possible.